USA government charges two Chinese spies over jet engine blueprint theft

More than a dozen companies were targeted but only Capstone Turbine Corp was identified by name

In that matter, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said the extradition of Chinese operative Xu Yanjun from Belgium was unprecedented, and the case highlighted the Chinese government's direct control over economic espionage in the United States.

According to the indictment, in January 2014, Tian received malware from his MSS handler and installed it on a company computer.

As described herein, members of the conspiracy hacked Company I and other companies that manufactured parts for the turbofan engine, including Companies A, F, and G, to steal sensitive data from these companies that could be used by Chinese entities to build the same or similar engine without incurring substantial research and development expenses.

The indictment is among a small but growing collection of prosecutions that openly accuses the Chinese government of stealing US trade secrets.

The officers - part of a regional unit of China's Ministry of State Security, the agency responsible for domestic and foreign intelligence - stole turbofan engine plans and other confidential information from 13 companies, including two United Kingdom aerospace firms, which were not named in the indictment.

The engine was being developed through a partnership between a French aerospace manufacturer with an office in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, and a U.S. firm, it said.

A Chinese state-owned company was, at the time, working on a comparable engine for jets made in China and elsewhere.

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"Officials described the case as part of a push by the Trump administration to highlight what USA authorities say are China's continuing efforts to steal information from American and European companies through cyber attacks and on-the-ground recruiting", the Wall Street Journal reported.

It's thought the hacking attempts in the USA came to an abrupt end in May 2015 when the targeted companies identified the malware and removed it.

"From at least January 2010 to May 2015, JSSD [Jiangsu Province Ministry of State Security] intelligence officers and their team of hackers, including Zhang Zhang-Gui, Liu Chunliang, Gao Hong Kun, Zhuang Xiaowei, and Ma Zhiqi, focused on the theft of technology underlying a turbofan engine used in U.S. and European commercial airliners".

Unless the United States authorities manage to grab the accused Chinese nationals on U.S. soil or in nations where USA extradition is supported, we're not sure how the DoJ will be able to bring its charges to bear.

Ten Chinese spies have been charged in the US with hacking in to aviation firms in the UK, US, France, and Australia to steal trade secrets. Some of the targets were chosen because they would "facilitate further computer intrusions into other companies".

"State-sponsored hacking is a direct threat to our national security", said U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman. It's said that the hackers used various techniques, including using multiple malware strains on computers, spear fishing, domain hijacking and "using the victim companies" own websites as "watering holes' to compromise website visitors' computers".

"The concerted effort to steal, rather than simply purchase, commercially available products should offend every company that invests talent, energy, and shareholder money into the development of products". The operation grew to include attacks against the above-mentioned French company, two U.K. -based aerospace companies with offices in the United States, and a "multinational conglomerate that produces commercial and consumer products and aerospace systems". In the report only Los Angeles-based Capstone Turbine was mentioned by name. In another case, the Chinese used "Sakula" and "PlugX" malware. The OPM breaches are not mentioned in either prosecution, however.

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